Breweries are Skipping GABF in Favor of Festival-Adjacent Events

Austin Ray

Tens of thousands of people—not to mention hundreds of breweries—are flooding the city of Denver this week for the Great American Beer Festival. It’s the largest annual beer showcase this side of Munich. However, a noteworthy handful of small, highly regarded breweries from all over the country are opting to forgo GABF mania in favor of smaller, more intimate events and tap takeovers adjacent to the carnival itself.
Speaking with The Denver Post, a number of breweries opined that pouring at the festival proper did little to boost sales back home, and thus isn’t worth the cost of admission. (It’s worth noting that the Brewers Association, which puts on the fest, charged members a booth fee of $250 this year.) Meanwhile, others suggested that smaller, more intimate settings are more conducive to telling company stories to customers.

“If I can accomplish [brand development] at things like this why would I do GABF?” asked Erin Jones, marketing director at Asheville N.C.’s Burial Beer Co.
But even beyond those logistical conclusions, there is an environmental consideration at play here. Or, as Paul Arnery, owner of Oregon’s The Ale Apothecary put it with regards to his own company’s decision to stick to the side roads: “These are our consumers.”

Without attributing too much thrown shade to another man’s words, it’s not unfair to read that as delineation between pretzel-necklaced partiers and craft beer aficionados. None of that is to suggest attendees of the GABF don’t know their beer! But some of these abstaining companies—like Lawson’s Finest Liquids and Hill Farmstead, both of Vermont, for instance—make beer that their own local base has a hard time getting a hold of.

And that’s really what this all comes down to. Does it make sense for small companies to bear the expense of it all? Hill Farmstead's Shaun Hill has said outright that his business plan calls for permanently capping production at 150,000 gallons of beer per year, which only totals about 4,800 barrels. Given the incessant demand the company deals with at home, it’s not likely it will ever establish a presence in Denver at that volume—and it doesn't need to.
So, why go at all? Those that spoke with The Post insisted it didn’t help sales back home, but a presence in Denver, when beer lovers from all over the world are there, could certainly serve to turn a company into a beer tourism destination. Additionally, not pouring at GABF doesn’t preclude a brewery from entering the competition that comes with it. And as each category becomes more and more crowded, medaling should, ostensibly, carry more and more weight. Plus, there are tons of great events in the city during this week every year, ones that are much less hectic than the festival floor itself.
And that’s what a lot of these breweries are doing. In addition to the aforementioned companies, Post scribe John Frank counted Prairie Artisan Ales, Creature Comforts, The Powder Keg, Casey Brewing and Blending, Perennial Artisan Ales, and more among the other breweries pouring at smaller events around the city during GABF week.
—Dave Eisenberg
Why some big-name breweries don’t pour at GABF [The Denver Post]